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The Tonga answer to the Pitau at London Sevens qualifier question

By Liam Heagney
Tonga boss Tevita Tuifua in Stellenbosch (Photo by Liam Heagney)

Tonga boss Tevita Tuifua has revealed he won’t be getting out his contacts book to call in star reinforcements for the upcoming London Sevens. The Pacific Island nation qualified for the May 20/21 tournament at Twickenham after being crowned 2023 Sevens Challenger Series champions in Stellenbosch last Sunday.


That title success has progressed them to a four-team qualifier that will have a coveted place on next season’s revamped World Rugby Sevens elite circuit up for grabs. It’s a prize that would transform the sevens set-up for Tonga, generating additional funding and inspiring the next generation.

However, despite this massive incentive of potentially making it through to the top tier, head coach Tuifua will resist the temptation to add some stardust to the squad that successfully came through two weeks of action in South Africa.

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RugbyPass Insiders | Tonga | Road to Japan
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RugbyPass Insiders | Tonga | Road to Japan

The likes of Piutau and Malakai Fekitoa – the latter already took part in a 2021 Olympics Sevens qualifier in France – are nearing the end of their respective domestic campaigns at Bristol and Munster before they change clubs for next season, but Tonga coach Tuifua will keep faith with the squad that did the business in Stellenbosch, winning the first-leg title and finishing runners-up to Belgium in last Sunday’s second leg decider.

Asked by RugbyPass in the Tonga dressing room at the end of the tournament if he would be putting the feelers out to the stars for London, Tuifua answered: “I think they have another calling in the 15s at the moment [Piutau is part of the World XV playing the Barbarians on May 28 in London]. They have their own calendar, but we have enough boys and I believe we can do the job. I am trusting the process with the current group that we have.”

Why wouldn’t he given the commitment they have put in to qualify Tonga for the top tier of World Sevens? With their two-week stay in South Africa now complete, the squad have now flown home before reassembling again later this month for the London series.

“As a group, everyone has their own full-time job at home so they pretty much have to go back to where they are located around New Zealand, Australia and of course in Tonga and then we come together again and travel,” explained the coach who took charge in 2018 and has overseen all the encouraging recent progress despite the pandemic.


“There is a pressure on us with the time that we have and the travel we have. We have to go home now for a week or so, so it is just more about managing our group. They are all in a good space at the minute. There is a good spirit in the group and it is doable. We can’t wait to get across to London and start our preparations.

“In the past three years, it is just more for me trying to manage how things are working and it is tough because everyone is all over the place and I can’t rely on just one place for selection. Together it is about the development of the group, and so far from day one in 2018 we still have four or five guys.

“It has been years of sacrifices made by our group and while trying to manage them remotely is not easy, I am chuffed we have pulled things together. For our team, it is half the job done. We will never jump ahead of ourselves but we have managed to qualify from here [the Challenger Series] and it is massive, not only for the team but for the country behind us.

“Especially for the next generation in the programme, Tonga rugby and Tongan people around the world, it is an opportunity for our kids in our country to be able to be up on the world stage, testing ourselves against the best.


“We have always made sacrifices for the opportunity to make the World Series. Unfortunately, we have fallen in the last two that we participated in, but we pray we pull it off this time.”

When Tonga were on song in Stellenbosch they were an unstoppable force, but they were times when they switched off and were caught napping. Chile beat them with a final play score in a pool match last Friday, and they then couldn’t recover from a fast Belgium start in Sunday’s final.

“What we have done as a group is we are more focused on ourselves than on the opposition. It is my job to do the review of the opposition, their job is to look at what they need to improve as a group and as an individual. It has been coming along so far so good.”


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